A Valentine for Zeke

Zeke (left) and Ozzie enjoying love and warmth by the heating vent.
Zeke (left) and Ozzie enjoying love and warmth by the heating vent.

The infamous Hallmark holiday that some of us like more than others has rolled around once again.  I’d like to rename it Love’s Day.  Perhaps that would de-emphasize making it all about your main squeeze (giving some relief to those who don’t have a romantic partner) and put the emphasis on that mysterious, universal force we call love.

In my humble opinion, love is so much larger than we’re taught. Yes, it’s fantastically kind, compassionate, forgiving, and eternal. But it often comes cloaked in an unfamiliar coat sometimes. Sometimes it’s wearing a bad relationship, a disease, a natural disaster, an addiction, or the loss of a loved one. Love is both the loved one and the loss. Love is both the disease and the healing. Love is both the addiction and the growth it asks. Love is both the coat and the love underneath.

Our culture teaches that anything uncomfortable, painful, or even horrific is not good. Many people, in fact, struggle with faith in the goodness of life when facing these things – and understandably so.  But what if we were taught that everything is good? What if we could see that within each negative situation there was a core of goodness and love…. that love had been there all the time, in fact, just waiting to be seen when the time was right?

Those moments of awareness of pure love are incredibly sweet and should be cherished. The path of love, though, is filled with both the light and the dark times. I’m sure that couples like my parents, who’ve been married for 66 years, would agree that despite the ups and downs, love has been present all along.  This is love’s truly mysterious, powerful, enduringly infinite nature.

My dear kitty Zeke, who just passed into the Light yesterday, has been one of my biggest teachers about love. He was complicated, as my daughter has rightly said. He was big and wore a glistening coat of dark fur, which always contrasted with our other cat Ozzie, who is tiny and silver white.  Zeke was strong willed (unlike compliant Ozzie), stubborn, and quite brooding by nature. He was a master of Jedi mind-control and usually only let himself be petted when he felt like it. Whenever he had to be picked up, he struggled wildly while wheedling impressive claws. He was a powerful force who also had the most luminous, expressive eyes in the cat kingdom. He could forgive like nobody’s business, and when he was in the mood for love, he gave it lavishly.

Zeke brought out both the best in me as well as the worst. He was an incredible mirror who reflected to me where I needed to grow in patience, commitment, courage and, at times, compassion. Our relationship was often a power struggle. As his kidneys began to fail and he approached the end of his life, though, I was the one who finally surrendered…. and what a deep blessing that’s been. All the qualities of love he taught me were available for our relationship. He slipped away into peace, loved up by me, my daughter, and Ozzie.

Thank you beautiful Zeke, and thank you to all of you for being my valentines. Without you, I might never grow. The mirror that relationships provide is the gift that truly keeps on giving. Relationships, marked by challenges and filled with sweetness and light, are the biggest blessings we can ever experience. Without relationships, how would we experience the true nature of love?